Travel Photographer | Amsterdam, Netherlands
I’ve visited Amsterdam before, actually a matter of like, 3 days before the world shut down in March 2020 and I was nearly a permanent resident by accident. And while I loved it at the time, the world was a little overshadowed by what was happening and travel got pretty scary pretty fast when the travel ban hit and I was STILL IN EUROPE. But this time was SO different. I spent 7 days there, pretending I was a local. Picking out where I would live. Where I would work. Typically on my trips to Europe, I hop around from country to country, never staying anywhere for longer than 3 days, trying to see as much as possible while I’m over there. I do a lot of tour group travel, and I will go over how wonderful those trips are on another post. But this one is all about a solo stay in Amsterdam.
I spend a lot of my time responding to DMs on both my personal and my work instagram, asking me about my travels and recommendations of where to go/where to stay when people go visit. While it may be challenging for me to keep up especially when I’m swamped with weddings, I am going to try to more consistently blog about my trips so that I can direct people to these posts instead of coming up with a list every time someone asks me. Also I’m always happy to relive my experiences in these incredible places. So here goes nothin!
March 2023 | Amsterdam, Netherlands
The trouble with international flights to Europe is that you’re always leaving America at night, flying on a red-eye, and landing in a foreign country bright and early (like 7am) and have a FULL DAY of exploring to do, so you basically have no choice but to jump right in. And if y’all are as terrible at sleeping on planes as I am, it’s always a struggle the first day. I find it best to plan to go a day before you want to accomplish anything (or a day before your tour starts, if you booked a tour group), since the first day I’m basically a zombie trying to figure out jet-lag and also usually staying awake for over 24 hours. So the first night, I sleep like I’m in a coma. And it’s always glorious.
I landed before 7AM in Amsterdam and had most of the day to wander around, unable to check into my hostel, and also wait for my friend to meet me from London later that evening. So I dropped my bags at my hostel (most of which will allow you to drop your bags and put them in lockers or a locked storage room – for free – before check-in, and many will allow you to check-in early, but depending on availability) and walked around all morning/afternoon. I discovered that my hostel, City Hub, was walking distance to SO MUCH and I familiarized myself with my neighborhood immediately. First of all, City Hub is SO unique. You stay in pods, with shared bathrooms, and it’s a completely unique experience. It’s not for everyone, but I absolutely loved it. If you’re traveling with just one other person or solo, this place is AFFORDABLE, comfortable, and located in a great spot. Some day I want to go back and stay on a house boat, but those are harder to find and more expensive and often come with a roommate.
I barely had to use public transit because of the location of my hostel, but when I did, it was very easily accessible and once you figure out the busses, they’re totally worth the day-pass (I believe it was 8 euros for a full day use, if you’re planning to use it often that day and explore a lot. They are VERY easy to use and takes you to every different neighborhood, then it’s worth saving yourself the extra steps since you’ll still walk SO MUCH). Also, Amsterdam is a VERY COMFORTABLE place to be alone in. I was never in any kind of fear for my safety or well being at quite literally any time of day. And I’ve been hyper-aware of this in other countries, so I promise I’m not just oblivious. I know what to look for and to hold onto my bag, but there were ZERO times when I felt that I was in any kind of danger to be even pick-pocketed. Maybe it helped that I was there in March before tourism really really picked up for the year. Or maybe Amsterdam is just very relaxed and wonderful.
I found the cutest breakfast spot across from my hostel called The Breakfast Club, I walked the streets before 10am only to learn that Amsterdam sleeps in. It’s SO quiet there in the mornings before noon. The city takes their time doing everything. I love the laid back vibe and how everyone commutes on their bicycles. It’s almost unbelievable how many bikes you see. There are entire parking garages dedicated to just bikes. Also – important note. Watch out for the bike lane. It looks like another extension of the sidewalk sometimes and the bikes DON’T STOP so watch out! I spent many hours in total on my trip being afraid that I had yet again accidentally wandered into the bike lane. LOL.
I walked through the neighborhood Jordaan, which is maybe one of my favorite areas in town. Tons of small independent shops and restaurants, and very quaint and quiet streets, it felt more residential. I unintentionally stumbled upon the Anne Frank House and saw the insane lines waiting for it to even open. I still have never done the tour of that house but I know this is one of those that you need to book before you get to Amsterdam as it will be full by the time you get there. A lot of museums you can purchase tickets the day-of but I found on this trip that most places preferred booking in advance, especially after covid. Same with restaurants – try making reservations even if it’s the morning-of!
The only tour that we scheduled on our trip was a 6.5 hour guided tour to Volendam, Edam, and Zaanse Schans. They are neighboring Netherlands towns, and VERY unlike the city feel of being in the heart of Amsterdam. Edam is where they make all the fancy cheeses (and yes I sampled 36 different kinds of cheese in one day). Volendam is a sweet little fishing village on the water, known for their fish & chips and yes I tried it and it was amazing. And then Zaanse Schans is the tiniest little town where people actually do live (I want to say there were something like 30 houses?) and it was full of big gorgeous windmills! I’ve seen photos like this of Amsterdam and never knew where it was located. We watched them demonstrate how they make the classic wooden clogs, too. It was a SUPER affordable tour, and while we picked the windiest, chilliest, gloomiest day to do it, I’m still so glad we did. You can find the actual tour I took HERE! Photos below:
Another highlight of my trip was an Airbnb “experience” that we booked, which was just a simple canal tour on a boat. It was just a privately owned boat but it was a 2 hour experience and it was open bar (plenty of wine and beer to choose from), and the captain was incredible. Just a sweet older gentlemen named Robby who enjoyed his life in Amsterdam and was happy to share it with travelers. I learned a lot of interesting info about what it’s like to live in the houseboats there and we saw inside a few of them as we passed by. MUCH more glamorous than they may appear from the street. He stopped and got us fresh bitterballen (a MUST TRY) from one of the restaurants (although my favorite that I tried was definitely from the bitterballen shop inside of Foodhallen) – which were delicious and he will also get you vegetarian ones if you ask! They are traditionally made with shredded beef. My friend Megan and I ended up befriending people on the boat and showing a sweet older couple from Miami where the original “coffee shop” The Bulldog was after our boat ride before we headed off to our dinner plans. The ride was comfortable even in the cold because he had glass ceilings and heated pillows and plenty of blankets to pass around. And it was a beautiful view for photos when you’re actually in the middle of the canals.
While there was absolutely NO shortage of incredible food in Amsterdam, there is one that I will never shut up about. A restaurant that I am SO OBSESSED WITH THAT IT GETS ITS OWN SECTION ON THIS BLOG POST: Loulou’s Pizzabar. I randomly found this on google during my first trip to Amsterdam in 2020, my friend Tammy and I loved it so much that in the 4 nights that we stayed in Amsterdam, we went back twice for dinner. So naturally I planned it into my trip this time around, even though it was NOWHERE near where I was staying or really anything we had planned to do. But we made the trip because it’s completely worth it. So, I have been obsessed with all things Italy and their style of pizza since I went to Italy in 2016. I have never again found pizza as delicious as true Italian pizza. Until Loulou’s. They are a very small restaurant and I have been turned away at the door without a reservation, so I highly recommend making one at least a few days ahead of time, as they book up and can’t fit many people at once. I cannot stress enough how worth it this pizza place is. I don’t know what to say other than GO! And don’t forget to pair your pizza with an Aperol Spritz.
Other highlights worth mentioning:
De 9 Straatjes – “9 Little Streets” – a quaint, picturesque canal-district area along 9 streets and the 4 main canals in Amsterdam, featuring vintage and designer boutiques and cozy cafes. I found that the shopping was a little pricey for me at a lot of the stores (not all!) but if you like designer stuff, this area is for you. And if you don’t, it’s still enjoyable to walk around and check out all the funky in-between shops! There’s some good food over here too.
Parakeet – purely a nacho restaurant, owned by an American! They do nachos WELL. This was something we stumbled upon purely based on how close it was to our hostel. A 5 minute walk, right in our neighborhood in Ood West. Not only are they EASILY the best nachos I’ve ever had, but the cocktails are right up there too. The staff made us feel so welcome we came back a second time. And the nachos…….. wow.
Massimo Gelato – also purely accidental in our findings of this place and simply because we walked directly by it on our walk home from dinner one night (there is ALWAYS room for gelato no matter how full you are) and this ended up being our nightly stop. Also. One of the flavors was fig & ricotta and I will never forget it.
Foodhallen – a GIANT food hall that we just so happened to be staying directly next to. It’s a whole building full of different food stalls to choose from – you can literally grab pizza from one place, guac from another, drinks from one of the bars, and don’t forget to hit the dessert place. I think I ate here like 4 times during my stay. Every food stall I tried was amazing, but the burrata sandwich I got from the Italian place was probably my favorite. Try something with burrata in Amsterdam, this place knows how to do cheese.
MOCO Museum – hands down my favorite museum in Amsterdam. It’s fun, vibrant, interactive, and modern. I’ve seen a few different installations here, my favorite being Banksy. This is a fun place for fun selfies with your buds. I will visit every time I go!
Van Gogh Museum – I didn’t go on this visit because I went the time before and it really is incredible. Absolutely worth the visit, especially if you’re a big Van Gogh fan. I got Starry Night tattooed on me in Amsterdam on my first trip. The only downfall of this museum is that his most famous works are not inside, so a lot of the work isn’t something you’ll necessarily recognize. But it’s a really cool exhibit showcasing his entire life.
Something I loved from the last time I went but also didn’t go this time: WONDR Experience – A selfie museum. Literally. It’s this giant warehouse of multiple different themed rooms to explore and take selfies in. Adult ball pits, slides, a music room, it’s really SO fun. Highly recommend partaking in one of Amsterdam’s famous “space cakes” about an hour before you arrive.
Vondelpark – just a beautiful park to walk around and there’s even a brewery in the middle to stop and enjoy a fresh beer on their patio and a little snack and honestly, great for dog watching. Another bit of info worth talking about – EVERYTHING IN AMSTERDAM IS DOG FRIENDLY. I mean everything. The public transit, the restaurants, everything. Nobody cares and you dog can literally sit in your booth with you at dinner. It’s amazing.
Moak Pancakes – I found this on my first visit to Amsterdam and upon my second visit, more locations had opened up! THE most epic pancakes you’ll ever have, as well as awesome ambiance.
Vegan Junk Food Bar – fun even for non-veg-heads. I like the location downtown better than the one I went to this time (near the red light district). Veggie burgers on pink and blue buns, lots of terrible fried food with crazy weird neon colors. The DRINKS are just as good, if not better than the food.
Red Light District – a STAPLE! It’s sad that you aren’t allowed to take photos while you’re walking through this street but it really is something everyone needs to see once in their life and it’s hard to explain without seeing it in person. Window after window of beautiful women trying to coax you up to their rooms. Sex workers are not shamed here, it is a CHOICE and a way of life, and many women make a VERY good living this way. Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands but not on the streets. That’s why prostitutes in Amsterdam stand up behind a window and have their own room.There are even churches nearby with daycare for the prostitutes to drop their children off before work. If a red light is showing in the window, it means they are open for business and currently available. If the light is off and curtains are closed, they’re with a customer. If a light is green, it means the person inside is transgender, or as one of my tour guides put it “a woman with a surprise” LOL. We were surprised to find out that there were even women in the windows in the early afternoon, but it’s the best to walk around late at night.
The Avocado Show – honestly just a fun touristy restaurant with very well-plated avocado-themed foods. After eating a lot of fried foods and cheese on my trip, my stomach was very happy to have some fresh veggies at this super cute spot.
Albert Cuyp Market – the largest open air market in Europe, it is set up every day of the week. Great booth shopping and easy gifts for people back home at very good prices. It’s in a very centrally located area so it’s really easy to get lost among these streets as you explore. THIS is the spot that has the absolute best Stroopwafels in town and I am not exaggerating. They are cheap, they are delicious, and they are worth finding. It is a simple blue & white cart, with a little awning over the top that says “Rudi’s Original Stroopwafels”. FIND IT.
The famous coffee shops: I tried many and I do think some of them are tourist traps, as I waited to have some brownies kick in only to have nothing kick in. So here are some of my favorite ones: Paradox in Jordaan for the best space cake, the place is simple and straightforward, no gimmicks or tourist traps. Prix d’Ami – very hip with neon lights and milkshakes to enjoy and security at the door and supposedly the biggest coffee shop in the world (although I just went to one as big as a WALMART in Vegas). The Bulldog is the first coffee shop in the world, and it is busy, but the line goes fast and it has great outdoor areas to sit and a great selection. Katsu is over by the Albert Cuyp Market. Nice spot to grab something and wander the market! And then my VERY FAVORITE that I actually didn’t make it to on this trip, but found in 2020 when I was there, was over by Rembrandt Square. Boerejongens Coffeeshop. It was the FANCIEST thing. The people inside wore bowties and white gloves. There was a door guy that looked like Morpheus from the Matrix. They gave you brownies wrapped in gold boxes and multiple options to choose from. SO cool.
Winkel 43 for the most amazing Dutch apple pies – I have never seen a place push out so many apple pies in the 30 minutes that I sat at the bar and devoured a piece.
Staring at Jacob – NY style brunch bar – huge portions and great food. Would be a GREAT spot to sit outside on a nice day.
All in all, this is a town that I would like to return to many more times in my life. I considered looking into what it would take to move here, but having a successful business in America is already pretty time consuming. I can’t imagine uprooting it again. And to another country. Where I’m not a legal citizen. Complications. But this place is worth experiencing, and I highly recommend. And don’t get me started on the beautiful European men. I think they’re just MADE better there.
For the best weather, I’d suggest March through September. But April through August are going to be packed with tourism, but that’s pretty common throughout all of Europe. It’s worth dealing with the crowds of people sometimes. I am a person who doesn’t like to be cold on vacation, and March is reallllllllly pushing my boundaries of cold in March. In 2020 I went in the beginning of March and it was a HUGE difference to this 2022 later in March trip. I still had to wear my winter coat most days, but comfortably and not miserably. The first time I went I had to buy an additional winter coat. However, keep in mind that tulip season is in April. That may be worth planning a trip around, as I’ve missed that every time! I’d like to visit in the summer some day, and live my best sundress life.